Why I am Joining the Content Strategy Team at Facebook

              
     
     
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Life doesn't slow down, so you've got to keep moving. Photo © Dave Morris
Life doesn’t slow down, so you’ve got to keep moving.
Photo © Dave Morris

Life doesn’t slow down.

It keeps moving. It won’t wait for you to catch up. And it never gives you a chance to catch your breath.

In just the first half of this year, I completed my master’s degree in information management at the University of Washington, a two-year program that culminated in a massive content auditing capstone project. I spoke at eight events, presenting a total of 536 individual slides. One of my decks even went viral, attracting close to 300,000 views as well as a mention in The Huffington Post.

I wrote a handful of blog posts, including this hand-curated list of 200+ content strategy resources. I also guest-blogged, I mentored, I did informal pro bono consulting and Q&As with a number of organizations… but mostly I met people, and I listened, soaking up information and perspectives and new ideas.

Throughout all of that, I also worked a full-time job at REI as their Principal Experience Architect. I worked on a mix of information architecture projects, content strategy, and business analysis and planning. REI’s been incredibly forgiving of my disheveled appearance, my apparent lack of interest in shaving, my constant yawning and bad habit of falling asleep at my desk.

And that’s no small feat with a stand-up desk, let me tell you.

So it’s been a busy six months. But even so, I’m not truly weary… I’m energized. And since life doesn’t slow down, I’m going to speed up.

Transitions

The welcome sign at Facebook corporate HQ in Menlo Park, CA. Photo © Marcin Wichary
The welcome sign at Facebook corporate HQ in Menlo Park, CA.
Photo © Marcin Wichary

Later this month, I’ll be joining the amazing Content Strategy team at Facebook down in Menlo Park, California. I’m blown away by their talent, their empathy, and the sheer scale of their accomplishments, not to mention the challenge set before them: iteratively crafting content experiences that will be used by over one billion people.

One billion people. That’s a pretty big 1 with a long stream of zeroes lying in its wake. I’m greatly honored and humbled by the responsibility and trust that this team of rock stars is placing in me. The problems that they’re trying to solve are important – they make a real, tangible, daily difference in people’s lives, especially in how those people connect to one another, communicate, and share information.

Even so, I’m sad to be leaving REI and my team and colleagues there. After nearly five years with this great organization, choosing to leave was no small matter, no easy decision.

Starting with Samantha Starmer back in 2008 – who had this crazy idea that SEO and information architecture could work together at an enterprise scale – and continuing with folks like Brian Galloway, Lulu Gephart, Jordan LeBaron, and Kim Field, REI has provided me with exciting challenges, lots of room to grow and maneuver, and an amazing environment and culture in which to work, not to mention fun (and brilliant!) colleagues.

But like Joanna Lord wrote recently, dreams don’t reach themselves. They require hard work and effort along with new thinking… and new adventures. “Some days you have got to throw caution to the wind,” she said. To me, that means that you have to learn how to leap without the benefit of a safety net.

So it’s time to jump. I’ve been inspired and motivated by folks like Diane Murphy, Amy Thibodeau, and Sarah Cancilla at Facebook, not to mention several other people on the team whom I’m just beginning to meet. Kristina Halvorson, Melissa Rach, Margot Bloomstein, and Sara Wachter-Boettcher have offered much encouragement, information, and sage advice about my move into this industry.

Kerry-Anne Gilowey gave me my first big break, inviting me to speak at last fall’s Content Strategy Forum in South Africa. And Seattle’s local Content Strategy meetup organizers – Misty Weaver, James Callan, Vanessa Casavant, Scott Pierce, and Paula Land – have all taught me so much.

Not the least of which is how much I don’t know.

So while I’m excited to join the Content Strategy team at Facebook, I also have a healthy amount of respect and no shortage of fear. This team and our work will be quite different from anything I’ve ever been part of before. There’s a lot I’ll need to learn just to tread water, let alone succeed.

Kate Matsudaira wrote recently that “a little dose of fear can keep you on your toes.” That’s helpful because I’ll need to stay on my feet and keep moving, even though I’m not exactly sure where I’m heading. This is an adventure with an uncertain ending.

But like Tolkien once wrote, “Not all those who wander are lost.”

Be Bold, Be Open, Move Fast – The Hacker Way

Move fast and break things. Photo © Ross Belmont
“Move fast and break things” – a poster produced in the Facebook Analog Research Lab.
Photo © Ross Belmont

But what comforts me are Facebook’s core cultural values, which include being bold, being open, and moving fast. Along with focusing on impact and building social value, these five core values are collectively known as The Hacker Way at Facebook.

Here’s an example of these cultural values at work: my recruiter told me a story about a new engineer hired at Facebook a while back. On her first day of work, she starts plugging away at some code issue. She’s smart and talented, so she solves the problem quickly.

But when she deploys her new code to the live production environment, there’s an unexpected conflict that ends up crashing Facebook around the world for hundreds of millions of people.

Hundreds of millions of people. That’s more than just status updates… it’s billions of “Like” buttons, it’s mobile apps in use on devices from here to Antarctica, it’s the OAuth system used to verify identity and handle logins across the Web, it’s the whole enchilada.

So she’s FREAKING OUT, she doesn’t know what to do or how to solve the problem that’s cascaded well outside of her control – it’s her first day, after all, and she’s just screwed up in the biggest, most public way imaginable.

But instead of firing her, her team helps her solve the problem. They help her identify what went wrong. They help her restore services to all of Facebook’s users. They help her learn how to avoid the code conflict in the future.

She goes home that night feeling amazed that she still has her job, armed with a lesson learned, and thankful for the strength of her team. But there’s something more: she’s also emboldened.

She’s learned how to fail fast and knows that her team is there to support her. So she’s not going to be afraid to take risks, to try something new, to think big.

Be bold, be open, move fast.

Content-Driven Organizations

Content strategy is organization strategy. Photo © Beck Tench
Content strategy is organization strategy.
Photo © Beck Tench

So can content strategists be hackers, too? I think that’s a big part of our future.

Our work is becoming focused on speed to market, iterating on micro messages at a macro scale, and continuous delivery of refinements to nimble content experiences based on qualitative and quantitative data. To produce these experiences with any level of quality, content teams must work as equal partners with engineering and design and analytics, rather than just fill up Lorem Ipsum buckets to a precise amount of characters.

Just as DevOps has revolutionized the way the engineers and operations teams work together to deliver value to users, organizations will need to develop a similar approach to their content and how it’s developed and released.

Accomplishing that will take a new kind of corporate culture. It requires a culture that is truly data-driven and user-centric, that does not wait for a bland consensus to emerge, and that has a strong bias toward action. A culture that understands that content isn’t a commodity, but rather a core business asset – just like the people who create it.

This sort of culture doesn’t focus on the lowest common denominator, but is instead focused on solving the hardest, most important content problems first… rather than the ones that are merely politically feasible.

I call this the Content-Driven Organization. It’s a concept that I’m eager to explore. And, at Facebook, it’s a culture that I’m stoked to experience first-hand.

It’s hard to believe that it was only a year ago that I first started speaking about content strategy. It was only a year ago that I left SEO for IA and content strategy (and started this blog). And now at Facebook, I have the opportunity to join one of the foremost content strategy teams in the world.

Believe me when I say that no one’s more surprised by this than I am. It’s like Robert Frost wrote: “Way leads on to way,” he said.

But only if you don’t slow down. Only if you keep moving.

So we’re going to move.

Hyperspace

Spin up the FTL drives, we're making the jump to hyperspace. Photo © Éole Wind
Spin up the FTL drives, we’re making the jump to hyperspace.
Photo © Éole Wind

Marja, #bestdogever, and I are leaving these shores. We’ll soon be selling our house in West Seattle and relocating down to the Bay Area.

I cannot tell you how amazing and supportive Marja’s been with all of these changes, considering that she’s an entrepreneur herself and will be relocating her entire business nearly 1,000 miles south. She’s been my rock, supporting me through graduate school, tons of travel for speaking engagements, two career changes, five job changes, and now this.

I am so lucky to have her in my life, so thankful that she is my wife. How will I ever repay her? I don’t know… But we’re both going to find out.

We know what it’s like to travel and move. After all, we got married in New Zealand. Together, we’ve moved from Michigan to Washington DC, from there to Seattle (via Australia), and now from here to Northern California.

But this is the first time we’ll be leaving a place that that we’re not quite ready to give up. We love Seattle, but we’re giving up the Puget Sound for the San Francisco Bay, we’re giving up the Olympic National Park for Yosemite, and we’re giving up the San Juan Islands for Point Reyes.

Clouds for fog, evergreens for eucalyptus, hipsters for… well, hipsters, I guess.

But we’re not giving up on you. We’re taking you with us on this adventure. Next stop: The Valley!

              
     
     
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About Jonathon Colman

Jonathon Colman is a content strategist, SEO & Internet marketer, speaker, and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. You can follow him on Twitter @jcolman, Google+, and LinkedIn. Feel free to contact him directly.
This entry was posted in Life, Work and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

53 Responses to Why I am Joining the Content Strategy Team at Facebook

  1. Congratulations Jonathon! What an exciting opportunity. Best wishes on this new adventure.

  2. Congratulations and good luck. Sounds like this is going to be a fun challenge.

  3. Samuel Johns says:

    Congratulations on creating the opportunity, with your hard work, of the exciting adventures ahead Jonathan. Always inspired and impressed by your mission and dedication to achieving great things. All the best for the new challenge and friendships!

  4. Rachael says:

    Again, congrats! So excited for you :) And really excited to see you next week to celebrate!

  5. DennisG says:

    Congrats on the decision Jonathon!
    And like I already said, let me know where I can help you making the transition and the move.
    Very happy to have you close so we can hang out more.

    DG

  6. Facebook is lucky to have you Jonathon!
    Congratulations & best of luck.

    Look forward to seeing what you do next.

  7. Alessio says:

    Rock on , Jonathon!

    happy to hear it. I will closely follow you to learn new stuff and hear some great stories.

    After more than 2 years as in-house, I will move to NZ in October. I’ll look for something broader than just SEO, something where content strategy and customer experience are in the first place. I owe you a beer (or whatever you wanna drink..I’ll buy) because you were one of the first people who let me know more about content strategy and since then I never stopped learning and experimenting.

    congrats on the new job, and rock on!

    • Many thanks, Alessio. Sounds like you’re taking some very big steps into a larger world – congratulations! Hope you enjoy NZ and I’m sure you’ll find much adventure and success there. Cheers!

  8. Sean says:

    Incredible man!

    That is an immense opportunity you have unfolding beneath you. I am truly ready for a new adventure as well, and as a Tolkien nut myself, seeing you mention “Not all who wander are lost” gave me chills. Your successes in this have inspired me greatly, and I feel now the need to work towards even greater goals!

    Onward and upward, J-col to the valley!

  9. Greg Meyer says:

    Jonathon -

    Big congratulations! We’ll miss you here in Seattle, and have another friendly face to see in California. If it’s a scary big opportunity, that means it’s both scary and big. I’m sure you’re up to the challenge. Huzzah!

    -g

  10. Congratulations to you and your family! That is incredibly exciting :D Can’t wait for future posts and updates!

  11. So much to like in this post. First, congrats, the Facebook team is full of so many smart and terrific people. Second, I love the concept of content strategists as hackers. And, hooray for “content-driven organizations”–that’s a nice label for an important concept. Good luck working for The Zuck.

  12. So much to like in this post. First, congrats, the Facebook team is full of so many smart and terrific people. Second, I love the concept of content strategists as hackers. And, hooray for “content-driven organizations”–that’s a nice label for an important concept. Good luck working for The Zuck!

    • Thanks! More on content-driven organizations and core values at the CS Forum in Finland this September. Really excited to tackle these concepts and have amassed a ton of real-world examples.

  13. David McMillan says:

    Congrats Jonathan! What a great opportunity!

  14. Good luck, John!
    I’m sure you’re going to do pretty well there on Facebook, and all of us who follow you here and there will expecting more amazing pieces of content stuff. With no doubt, you’re one of the pros in the ‘content field’, and Facebook is very lucky with your arrival.
    Please, don’t stop producing good stories and content advice. People who love content (like me) need smart thinkers like you.
    I’ll be waiting your next stop.
    Again, good luck!

  15. Yay! We’re all so excited to be working with you and to welcome you, Marja and #bestdogever to the bay area.

    • Thank you so much, Amy – you’re a big part of why I’m excited to join the team. Can’t wait to start learning from you and lending a hand.

      #bestdogever wants to lend a paw and why not? She’s got four of them!

  16. Wow!! Super excited for you guys on your new adventure. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’d miss you guys up here. Will love to watch what you do down there. Sure to be amazing no doubt!

  17. Wow! Congrats! That is a great move. I am going to tell my friends there to be sure to say hello to you and welcome you on your first day. You are going to knock their socks off and I am excited to see what happens.
    We will definitely miss you in Seattle though!!!!!

  18. LeeKennedy says:

    Really cool to see how a focused, motivated SEO’er can evolve into passionate content marketer and make big impacts. Good luck with the new job!

  19. Jeff Nowak says:

    Jonathon–Happy to hear that Facebook got a hold of one of the most enterprising content strategy guys out there. Best in “breaking things” at Facebook. I’ll continue to watch and learn from you. Let’s keep crossing paths on this exciting journey!

  20. Jeff Nowak says:

    Jonathan-Contrats to one of the most enterprising content strategist out there. Facebook got a good one, and I’m going to enjoy watching and learning as you break things along the way!

  21. JONATHON!!!!

    Yes, I’m screaming in excitement for you! I have one word, phrase, that you are living out — Vision Boards! We’ve discussed goal setting and sacrifice. You set and gave up a lot of sleep and personal time (and time on the bike) for where you are in your career now. Heck, who would have imagined Facebook! (You probably visualized something big like this.) Well deserved!

    Heck, maybe I’ll get to meet Marja some time, since you will only be a couple hours away.

    And, I still don’t think you left SEO. You just became a better all around marketer! Those of us who use Facebook will surely be better off as a result.

    • Yeah, we’ll definitely meet up! And I want to explore the area and get out to Folsom. Hope you’ll give us a tour of YoYoSEO’s worldwide HQ! Thanks so much for all your support – you rock. :)

  22. Ben Wills says:

    Man, I’m so excited for you and Marja and #BestDogEver! Congrats! Undoubtedly well earned.

    Ben

  23. Congratulations on the move, Jonathan! I’m excited to read, hear, and learn more from you as you experiences expand into Facebook.

    Looking forward to meeting with you and Dennis G the next time I’m in San Fran.

  24. Cristin says:

    Congratulations! I’ve been following your energy around the web and have learned so much about content. Hope the Bay treats you well, and I look forward to hearing about what the future holds.

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  26. I can’t wait to hear about the differences in hipsters from Seattle to the Valley. :) I have no doubt you’ll have many observations to share.

    Giant congrats on a new chapter in your career!

  27. Jenna says:

    Congrats, Jonathon! I met a couple of Facebook Content Strategists when I was on my trip around America in April, seems like a really great place to work with lots of fun people! Good luck!

    Jenna.

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  29. On Wards Ever, Backwards Never….

    Glad you’re taking that leap and I will look forward to following your work at Facebook as closely as I’ve followed your work at REI. There’s a lot of great folks in that Menlo Park office, I’m sure you will find each other and rock the hell out of content. Kudos.

  30. Onwards Ever, Backwards Never….

    Glad you’re taking that leap and I will look forward to following your work at Facebook as closely as I’ve followed your work at REI. There’s a lot of great folks in that Menlo Park office, I’m sure you will find each other and rock the hell out of content. Kudos.

  31. Ken ReCorr says:

    Congratulations on a new gig well-earned.

  32. But the biggest question is will they let you wear your baseball cap to work at Facebook?

    In all seriousness congratulations on your move, your Masters work and basically kicking ass for the last year.

    Your ability to bring the sanity of SEO to the content strategy community has been nothing short of a minor miracle.

    I look forward to hearing about your northern Californian adventures.

    Keep kicking ass Jonathon.

  33. Can’t wait to see what kind of awesomeness you bring to Facebook.

  34. Jonathon, This is huge!!! I would say Facebook has now jumped to new level after your hiring. Good luck :-)

  35. This is stupendously awesome of you man! I’m so pumped for you!! Congrats and keep on pushing. You’re such a beam of bright light. I’m really going to miss you at SEO events, but I just have a feeling I’ll be seeing you somewhere, sometime down the road.

    “Still round the corner there may wait
    A new road or a secret gate…”

  36. No!!!!!!!! I mean, congratulations! How can you leave Seattle? I mean SF is so lucky to get you. And here we all thought that now you graduated we’d get to see more of you. I mean, you have a lot of friends in the Bay Area who will line up to show you around. Damn. I men good for you. Obviously we have mixed feelings too, but you now we’re behind you and happy for you.

  37. HUGE congrats!! This is super exciting & couldn’t possibly happen to a better person in our industry. :) They’ll be very lucky to have you. Good luck!

  38. Alan George says:

    Holy smoke! Congrats on the new gig.

  39. Sara says:

    I’ve kept my sh*t together about this whole thing until reading the last section of this blog post and now I’m in tears at my desk. One of the heaviest factors in my decision to leave REI was not having the chance to come to work everyday with the potential to make some awesome happen with you. And while our visits have been (perfectly) infrequent (given the number of introverts involved), having you and Marja and Prim as neighborishes has been an absolute gift.

    I expect you two to suss out the valley’s Lindy Hop scene (perhaps my friend Tantek can be of some assistance, there — in fact, I’m remiss in not connecting you two, sooner). Plan on a guest room, please, and as I said before… thank goodness for the Interwebz.

    Hugs,
    -Sara

    • Marja says:

      I’m with you Sara – I tear up every time I read that section, too! :) We’ll miss you, and we’ll definitely plan on a guest room so that we can visit!

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  41. congrats jonathon and best of luck on your new adventures!

  42. Zeph Snapp says:

    Jon,

    I am late to the party on this, mostly because I had the chance to give you a hug and give you my congrats in person. Thanks for being so great to a guy that nobody had heard of.

    Also, just wanted to tell you that I have incorporated one of your best ways to help people: At MozCon I made a point of asking awesome people who they hadn’t met yet, and then making the introduction. It made me feel good to pay it forward, and it felt like I was honoring the way you have gone about bringing people since well before I met you.

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